In the final hours before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, Andrew Wiggins wordlessly offered 23 minutes of advice to the personnel executives in the Warriors’ front office.
Not that they needed it. Not anymore. General manager Mike Dunleavy and CEO Joe Lacob realize that the Warriors, a portrait of instability in the first half of the season, are evolving into the team they envisioned on opening night.
And they can attribute much of the transformation to Wiggins.
Though Golden State’s 127-104 demolition of the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center surely was a collaborative effort, no one pulled more weight than Wiggins, whose value spent most of January under microscopes in the NBA's various trade laboratories.
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Wiggins needed only 23 minutes to score a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and snag a game-high 10 rebounds. He also put handcuffs on Sixers star Tyrone Maxey (12 points, 5-of-14 shooting, three turnovers, minus-27 in 30 minutes).
“He was great,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Wells Fargo Center. “He obviously shot the ball well. But he rebounded, 10 boards, four offensive. He played defense on Maxey – we put him on the toughest guy – and just played with the right energy, the right spirit.
“The whole group did. just thought everybody came out competed and defended without fouling and that allowed us to get out in transition.”
The Warriors have won four of five for only the third time this season. They have a starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga, Draymond Green – they like and want to keep.
Golden State Warriors
Wiggins, who has expressed a desire to stay with the Warriors, is giving them what they sought in trade conversations. A wing who can score while also playing elite perimeter defense. He didn’t do much of either through the first three months, which is why he spent most of the December and early January coming off the bench.
And why the front office, searching to upgrade a team going nowhere, were so willing to make him available.
But Wiggins’ last three weeks have been precisely what Golden State was seeking. Wiggins over his last six games – including the loss at Atlanta, when he left before halftime with an ankle injury – is averaging 15.7 points on 60.3-percent shooting. Equally important is that he is defending with renewed focus and energy.
Wiggins’ revival has made a visible and statistical difference for the Warriors. They’re playing faster on offense. The defense has been more effective. Kerr is seeing the team he wanted all along.
“I feel like we’ve been finding something good that’s been working for us and if everyone buys into what we got going on,” Wiggins said postgame. “Always make it about the team.”
Asked about trade possibilities before the game, Kerr offered his advice while and subtly alluding to Wiggins’ recent surge.
“The guys have been great, everybody is committed and playing hard playing together,” Kerr said. “And there hasn't been a whole lot of chatter. I know there's a few guys names being mentioned. But there hasn't been a whole lot of talk.
"I always say I don't really expect anything to happen.”
Trade conversations, frequent within the front office a few weeks ago, have cooled dramatically. That doesn’t mean the phones are completely silent, but Wiggins has gone from a low-value trade bait to high-value trade bait – or high-value Warrior.
Any trade involving Wiggins always meant taking back someone who would need time to adjust to Golden State’s preferred style and the timing required to execute on both ends. At this stage, any new player couldn’t reasonably be expected to contribute much until after the Feb. 16-21 All-Star break.
Wiggins, 28, is contributing now. He is flashing the form that made him so valuable to their 2022 NBA championship squad. Trading him now would come with considerable risk and carry a stench of desperation.
It surely would lead to another round of adjustments, something Kerr clearly would like to avoid.
“Every guy on our team has really overcome a lot individually this year,” Kerr said. “Being taken out of the starting lineup. Being injured and bouncing back. Young players who have emerged through hard work and patience. I'm just really enjoying coaching this team.”
The Warriors liked their roster in training camp. They thought the squad had enough to make a deep postseason run. But when they were 6-9 in November, 5-7 in December and 3-5 through the first two weeks of January, the front office began to stir. They have, after all, the highest payroll in the league.
They’re 5-3 since Jan. 15. And, moreover, their metrics are rapidly improving.
“I feel like this group can do something special. I really do,” Kerr said. “So, if we don't do anything tomorrow, then we feel like we've got a good group we can push forward with.”
The Warriors always can sniff around for a veteran big man in the buyout market. If they let the deadline pass, it’s because they’re back to believing what they have.
Draymond’s return has made the right impact. Kuminga’s development has been all they could have wanted. Thompson seems to be settling into a slightly reduced role. And Wiggins finally looks like the dude who was indispensable on their last championship team.